Alan Jackson, Drive (For Daddy Gene)
Alan Jackson has certainly achieved elder statesman status in country music, and rightly so. But, I’ve always felt his work could be separated between the genuine country good, and the cheesy, cliché-ridden country bad. Songs like Midnight in Montgomery and Murder on Music Row delve into the tropes and images that divide ‘real’ country from the terrible pop, or “bro” country that dominates radio. Then, he cranks out stuff like Chattahoochee, which I know is popular, but has always struck me as appealing to the lowest common denominator of hillbilly ‘aw shucksisms. It’s like Eric Church, who is pretty darn cool in most regards, using ‘mom’s apple pie’ as a key image in a song: it lacks legitimacy and seems like taking the easiest road to wedging in a nice fitting rhyme. Or appealing to what’s comfortable and well known, in order to add some kind of inclusiveness to the music. But, shouldn’t music be about exploring new emotional venues? I don’t know—relying on hack cliché is my biggest gripe with country music, but then, what form of popular music doesn’t rely on the easily identifiable to sell a theme? And t-shirts. Jackson has done more good than bad, and errs more towards the soulful legacy of Hank Williams than some of his elder contemporaries. But, he can clunk with the worst of ‘em, too.
Drive (For Daddy Gene), a song about the bonding experiences between father and son, then son become father to his own children straddles the border between the genuine and the over-mapped imagery of “Dad”. But, it’s a wonderful song, with a soaring hook, and just the right amount of sentimentalism to relate to on a level that invokes unaffected authenticity. Jackson mines the imagery of restoring first a boat with his own father, then a truck, and ends up doing the same with his own daughters later in life to talk not only about beautiful memories, but also of the sense of growth and of freedom that comes from learning to drive and being the pilot, so to speak. The idea of piloting moves from the actual sense of being at the wheel to being able to eventually pilot one’s own life according to and because of the lessons passed on from father to child. And I suppose a little sentimental cliché never hurt anyone, least not when we’re talking about dad (or mom, or little sis….). And really, what else is a father meant to do than teach his children to be better than he was?
And, I must confess, I put on Chattahoochee while I was writing this, and now its stuck in my head…grumble, grumble…